Few if any of South Whidbey’s sports teams know how to celebrate the start of a season like cross-country does.
At exactly 12 a.m. on Aug. 24, the first official day of fall practices, the Falcons commence the season by running.
And they’ve done so for the last 11 years.
Granted, the Falcons’ run this year was for all of 50 meters near the barracks of Fort Casey, and the runners wore sleepwear rather than workout clothing.
But, tradition is tradition.
In the hopes of improving team chemistry and setting goals for the season, the Falcons gather at Fort Casey for their annual team camp, where they participate in a number of running exercises, swimming, games and lectures, while also enjoying food and company from the families of runners who attend.
It’s appropriate that the Falcons mark the season so decisively, because until November, things won’t be getting any easier.
South Whidbey has set a high bar for its boys team, which will attempt to qualify for the Class 1A state cross-country championships for the third consecutive year and improve upon its ninth-place finish.
Senior Evan Mellish, who missed last season due to a broken foot, is especially eager for a chance to compete again.
Named as one of the summer’s workout warriors by Falcons’ head coach Doug Fulton, Mellish’s individual goals come second to helping his team advance to the state meet.
“Personally, if I can help my team get there, then that’s more than enough for me,” Mellish said. “I don’t personally need to be on my own, but if I can get there on my own, that would make the experience all the better.”
The Falcons boys top runners will be Mellish, Will Simms, Cory Ackerman, Justin Gonzalez and Collin Burns, according to Fulton.
“They worked hard this summer and they’re pretty fit,” Fulton said. “Their goal is to get to state and get on the podium.”
On the girls side, last season was a blip in what has otherwise been a successful past few years.
“The girls didn’t make it to state last year and they had a streak going,” Fulton said. “They have a shot this year.”
Only one runner advanced to the state meet, Mallorie Mitchem, and this year looks to be different. Mitchem is making sure of that.
“I kind of feel bad, because I’ve been a bit harsh on my girls,” Mitchem said of how she’s pushed the other runners at practice. “I really want our girls to pull through and make it to state as a team.”
The girls return four of their five top runners, including Elizabeth Donnelly, Iona Rohan, Clara Martin, and Bethany Justus.
Mitchem is currently the 10th-ranked girl in the state after finishing 13th overall last season with a time of 19:58.02.